Anthony Joshua’s prospective world heavyweight title rematch with Oleksandr Usyk has been plunged into doubt, with the Ukrainian boxer reportedly returning to his homeland to join the war effort against Russia. Arrangements for the pair’s hotly-anticipated rematch were thought to be at an advanced stage, but the current exceptional circumstances could see plans change.
President Vladimir Putin launched a military assault on neighbouring Ukraine this week, drawing widespread condemnation.
The Ukrainian government has called on Kyiv’s citizens to help defend the city as Russian troops continue to advance.
The UN claims that at least 25 civilians have been killed as a result of airstrikes across the country, with more than 100 injured.
And while thousands attempt to flee the country, Ukrainian sports stars have come out in force to rally against Russia’s efforts.
Usyk is among them, and after flying from London to Ukraine on Thursday, he stated in an Instragam video: “Some wrote to me that I ran away; I didn’t.
“I was at work but I’m back, I’m home. Friends, we have to unite because it’s a hard time right now and I’m really emotional and worry about my country, and our people.
“Friends, we have to stop this war; all of us together.”
Usyk cruised to a unanimous decision victory over Joshua back in September, when the pair faced off at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
It was only the second defeat of Joshua’s professional career, and having wrenched away the Brit’s WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO heavyweight titles, Usyk was left contractually tied when a rematch clause was activated.
After preparations got underway to make the fight for May 2022, Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, claimed this week that the contracts were already signed.
It remains to be seen how Usyk’s return to Ukraine will affect plans for the fight to go ahead, given that it had not been officially confirmed.
The 35-year-old trains and lives near Kyiv, where much of the activity between Russian and Ukrainian troops is currently unfolding.
Usyk’s compatriots and ex-world champions the Klitschko brothers have vowed to take up arms (Image: GETTY)
Compatriots Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko, both former world heavyweight champion boxers, have committed to taking up arms against Russia.
“I don’t have another choice, I have to do that. I’ll be fighting,” the latter, who has served as major of Kyiv since 2014, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
“Putin makes it clear that he wants to destroy the Ukrainian state and the sovereignty of its people,” added his younger brother on LinkedIn.
“Words are followed by missiles and tanks. Destruction and death come upon us.
“That’s it, blood will mix with tears… We will defend ourselves with all our might and fight for freedom and democracy.”